Councilman retiring after 38 years

NILES — At-Large Councilman Stephen Papalas has kept a meticulous record of his nearly 38 years on Niles City Council, with file folders containing newspaper clippings and various paperwork for every election year dating back to 1979, when he was first elected.

Earlier this month, Papalas took out some of those file folders and looked back on his time in city government. Papalas, 66, who never lost an election and served under five mayors, announced in July he wouldn’t run for council again, a decision he made after learning Council President Bob Marino wouldn’t seek re-election.

Papalas said he worked with some great people — Joe Cicero, Jack Shaffer, Joe Parise, Carmen Vivolo, Bill Burgess, Mario Capriotti, Richard Bullock, Mitch Shaker, Doug Neuman and Marino, to name a few — during both trying and triumphant times in Niles.

When Papalas first ran for office, Niles was faced with a financial crisis, and he leaves as the city continues to climb out of a second financial crisis.

Halting a proposed $7.5 million minor league stadium in 1998 — a project pushed by former Mayor Ralph Infante and former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. as a public-private partnership between Niles and Sam and Jeff Moffie of the Cambridge Investment Group — is what Papalas looks back on as one of his proudest moments as a councilman.

There was great pressure to move forward with the deal, Papalas said, but council voted it down after it was learned the investors had a myriad of problems from debts to lawsuits and tax liens.

Papalas was on council throughout Infante’s administration. Infante was named last fall in a multi-count felony indictment which includes charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with evidence, operating a gambling house, theft in office and bribery. Also named in the indictment are Infante’s wife, Judy, and the mayor’s former business, ITAM 39 in McKinley Heights. In a separate case, one of Infante’s former auditors, Charles Nader, 64, is facing nine felony counts, including theft in office.

Papalas said Infante would provide city council with budget numbers that differed from numbers provided by Nader. Papalas said he and Marino went to the state and requested a performance audit to reconcile the books when it became apparent something was awry with the city finances.

Outside of city government, Papalas described Nader and Infante as doting family men, and Infante was the life of any party. Papalas said it’s tough feeling disappointment in two men he once trusted, although that doesn’t mean he would have approached the situation any differently.

“It was the only thing to do and I’d do it again every time if I had 100 opportunities,” Papalas said. “If you know something is wrong and you don’t say or do anything about it, you’re just as wrong.”

Councilman at-Large Michael Lastic said Papalas had a say in big and small issues alike, he served his constituents well and he has a vast knowledge of Niles.

“You don’t last that long without knowing something, and he knows a lot,” Lastic said. “When he has something to say people listen, and he always has something to say.”